Buzan sparks Sages' impressive turnaround

MONTICELLO — Climate-change talks aren’t limited to meteorologists.

The conversations are applicable for folks discussing the area’s most improved girls’ basketball teams.

Monticello’s third head coach in the past three years has the Sages at the .500 mark entering the new year. After back-to-back 20-loss seasons, a 7-7 mark is reason for optimism.

Coach David Beery is not satisfied.

“We don’t want to be a .500 team,” he said. “We want a winning season. We want to win a regional.”

The Sages have surpassed their win total from the 2011-12 season and are within one victory of matching last season’s final output. They battled Neoga (11-4) in Saturday’s third-place game of the Sages Holiday Hoopla Tournament before losing 58-57.

For Beery — whose wife Shelley has coached Monticello’s back-to-back IESA state title teams — the game outcome is not as important as what is transpiring within the team.

“We’re steadily competitive,” Beery said. “We’re putting ourselves in position to win.”

The irony in Saturday’s loss is the team missed shots it hoped to make before making one it hoped to miss.

Trailing 58-55 with 1.4 seconds left, Claire Caldwell was fouled by Neoga and sunk the first free throw. Her line-drive attempt on the second shot also went in the basket. Neoga ran out the clock to prevail by a point.

“The basketball gods were not smiling on us,” Beery said. “The main thing is we’re battling teams tough and making progress. We’ve come a long ways.”

Caldwell (18 points) was among the four sophomore contributors. Junior scoring leader Layne Buzan, who celebrated her birthday with a 28-point, 11-rebound effort, was the veteran when Caldwell, Janessa Pankey, Jenna Prather and Hannah Smith were also on the court.

“Layne is our leader on offense and on defense,” Beery said. “Early on, we’re probably putting too much on her. We’re getting good play out of other players, and part of the process is getting everyone to fit together.”

Tuscola 44, Ridgeview 37. The Warriors (6-7) trailed 32-28 with 6:16 left in the third quarter but allowed five points thereafter and rallied for the win. Madeline Meinhold led with 15 points. Macie Edwards grabbed 12 rebounds.

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 41, Argenta-Oreana 32. The Falcons hit six of their first seven three-point shots. Mikayla Baillie (14 points) hit 4 of 5 threes.

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